Every time I write off Matthew McConaughey as a set of abs best suited to play a shirtless cad (see: "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"), he reminds me of how resourceful an actor he is. When the drawling Texan leaves that pigeonhole, he soars.
As the bottom-feeder attorney in "The Lincoln Lawyer," a twisty, cleverly plotted thriller based on the crime novel by Michael Connelly, McConaughey acts with his head and body. His legal eagle is a predator, all right, but one who retracts the talons in favor of mind games.
Brad Furman's movie is shamelessly entertaining and the best thing in it is McConaughey's Mickey Haller, known as "the Lincoln lawyer" because his office is his Town Car. Why pay for overhead when you have an ex-wife (Marisa Tomei as a world-weary assistant district attorney) and kid to help support?
Mick's a streetwise operator who knows how to make money off the front end and back end of every deal. He knows how to work the system without gaming it and how to make a bribe look like a legitimate Christmas gift. For him, the end product of the justice system is not a fair verdict, but getting a judgment and pocketing the payment for services.
He strikes gold when his chum the bail bondsman (John Leguizamo) hooks him up with a franchise client, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a Beverly Hills real-estate prince and playboy charged with assault and battery of a female escort. Almost unprecedented in Mickey's experience, Roulet (rhymes with roue) may even be innocent.
The part of the smoothie at the pick-up game suits McConaughey down to the ground. Typically, Mickey is several steps ahead of the DA. In defending Roulet, though, what initially looks to be a slam-dunk is a desperation heave.
In this nicely cast film featuring Bryan Cranston as a comically exasperated police detective, William H. Macy is a standout as a private investigator, a shaggy motormouth with access to all sorts of privileged information.
Furman's movie has the throwback vibe of Paul Newman crime procedurals like "The Drowning Pool" and the swagger of the first installment in a continuing movie or television franchise. I, for one, look forward to the next chapter in the misadventures of Mickey.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER
3 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei
DIRECTOR: Brad Furman
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
RATING: Rated R for some violence, sexual content and language.
THE LOWDOWN: A criminal defense attorney who works out of the back of his car finds his life in danger while defending a rich playboy.